Farmers could see an increase in subsidies if the payment system was overhauled to ensure money is targeted at the areas which need it most.
Speaking to Farmers Guardian, former Rural Affairs Secretary Owen Paterson highlighted the Switzerland example, whereby Alpine farmers are supported by direct ecological payments, exceeding Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments, for the work they do in maintaining the iconic landscape.
“Many of them would struggle to compete on the basis of food production alone, but they are crucial to the environmental maintenance of the Alps,” said Mr Paterson.
“It is the same with our marginal areas, such as the Lake District and other hillside livestock farms and vulnerable parts of the country – those farmers play a valuable role in maintaining the landscape, managing flood prevention, conserving biodiversity and delivering clean water.
“They nurture a rural environment which sustains a £30 billion tourism industry. Payments could be made to reflect this.”
If these remote areas were abandoned, Mr Paterson said, they would revert to scrub ‘and would not attract the visitors on which they depend’.
“The idea that such areas should be ’rewilded’ with long extirpated predators is a Rousseauian fantasy which should not be encouraged or supported with Government funds,” he added.
However, he admitted the current subsidy scheme was not ‘fair’ and required a more tailored approach. This could mean some farmers saw a drop in payments, with others seeing increases.
“We can’t justify giving dukes large sums of money for not doing anything,” said Mr Paterson.
Industry chiefs have been consulting on a workable deal for agriculture following Brexit.
The NFU has previously said it would be prepared to accept a drop in subsidies if the Government was able to secure unfettered access for agricultural goods to the EU single market.
Mr Paterson highlighted the New Zealand approach, where farmers eventually flourished when subsidies were taken away.
“We are not flat bust as a country like New Zealand so we wouldn’t need to take subsidies away overnight, but what I am saying is that there should be a transition period of between five and 10 years, although I do think 10 years would be too long.
“Like New Zealand, we have to be transparent with our subsidy system, for the sake of the taxpayer. Money would be better spent on training and developing technology, so that the farmers who want to get on can fly.”